This Saturday (Christmas Eve) marks the passing of Austrian composer Alban Berg (Feb. 9 1885 – Dec. 24 1935) 76 years ago. Berg, like Schoenberg and Webern, was an important exponent of the Second Viennese School and a master of serialism. But early in his career, he composed pieces in a highly tonal, Late Romantic style, such as his Sieben fruehe Lieder, a cycle often heard in recitals and is well represented on recordings. Of the seven songs, I am particularly fond of Die Nachtigall with its soaring melodic line and ingratiating harmonies. This song never fails to move me, especially when sung by a singer with as opulent a voice as Jessye Norman here. Her tone is so smooth, like dark mahogany, seemingly without edge – it really takes one’s breath away, even if her mannerism is not to everyone’s taste. The London Symphony Orchestra under Pierre Boulez is equally exquisite. This is a desert island performance for me.
Joseph K. So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, but his first love is music, which he studied as an undergraduate student at the State University of New York. Since seeing his first live opera – La Gioconda with Renata Tebaldi at the Met in 1967, the singing voice became his lifelong favourite instrument. In addition to his longtime contributions to La Scena Musicale and The Music Scene, he is Associate Editor of Opera Canada and a frequent contributor to Musical Toronto.